Movies about mothers and motherhood fall into two categories: the all-around-heartwarming, make-you-feel-so-good-inside kind and the devastatingly disturbing films where a mother or mother figure is anything but warm and nice. The heart of the films I'm about to talk about rely on the understanding that a bond between a mother and child is sacred and irrevocable. With Darren Aronofsky's latest film Mother! making its rounds through the film festival circuit prior to its cinematic release on September 15, let these seven mother-related films drive you to the edge of reason with their fantastical and unsettling plots. WARNING: Spoilers for the films mentioned to follow!
7. Mother (2009)
When the only son of a hardworking mother is accused of murder, she takes it upon herself to do everything in her power to have him released. The mother in this film is played by the immensely popular and talented actress Kim Hye-ja. She is one of South Korea's most iconic mother figures in all things media; from television to movies, she's the woman for the job.
As we interact with Kim Hye-ja's character in Mother, we learn how much she's sacrificed for her son (who suffers from an intellectual disability). From the mind of Bong Joon-ho, the man behind Okja, The Host, Snowpiercer and Memories of Murder, we are introduced to a group of characters who are out to satisfy their own desires instead of following the law or upholding justice. Plus, it features some of the best use of the telephoto profile shot, detailed extensively in Every Frame A Painting's YouTube video about Mother.
6. We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)
Having a child is a blissful, but stressful predicament to find yourself in. For new mother Eva Khatchadourian (played by Tilda Swinton), motherhood isn't all it cracks up to be when she can't seem to enjoy the presence of her newborn baby. As the young boy grows up, he notices that his mother can't stand him, and he uses everything in his power to make her life a living hell.
Ezra Miller, who plays Eva's son Kevin, transforms before our very eyes as he goes from a sweet son in front of his father to a sullen young man with a penchant for hurting others before his mother. I will not give away the ending because this film is best if you watch it without any prior information for the full effect to take hold.
5. Pietà (2012)
If there's one thing Kim Ki-duk does well, it's push boundaries. His filmography alone is evidence enough to the kind of filmmaker that he is and aspires to be as he creates narratives that tackle dark subjects too taboo to ignore. Pietà tells the story of a lonely man who does dirty jobs for his loan shark employers. The loan sharks — heartless men who swindle the poor and ask for a drastically high return on a one-month loan — force the debtors to become handicapped in order to file an insurance claim that is bound to give them lots of money. Kang-do, our lonely protagonist, meets a woman who says to be his long-lost mother. He initially shuns her away, but her motherly love causes a change in him that he'll learn to regret as the film comes to a close.
4. Psycho (1960)
What more can one say about Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho that hasn't already been heavily discussed? The film is considered to be the start of the slasher film genre and a film that challenged the extent that topics like violence, deviance and sexuality could be depicted on screen. Due to the Production Code at the time of the film's release, Psycho certainly had its fair share of hurdles to be accepted in the US because of its iconic shower scene and the insinuation that Norman and his mother were lovers. Internationally, Hitchcock was forced to edit the shower scene to appease film distribution companies. All controversy aside, the twisted story of Norman Bates and his mother is a treat for those who enjoy psychological thrillers with a dash of multiple personalities and cross-dressing.
3. The Babadook (2014)
An allegorical tale about death and grief, The Babadook found great success after it debuted at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. With its horror backdrop, the film uses a monster to personify the feeling of grief that takes hold of a person's life as they try to overcome the emotional difficulties of losing someone they love.
Amelia's constant denial and avoidance of all things that have to do with her deceased husband Oskar feed the darkness that has created the monster called the Babadook. She learns that you can't get rid of the Babadook (a.k.a. grief), you can only seek to embrace it, tame it and keep it away so as to not cause any harm to the people you love. A metaphorical tale wonderfully woven from such a real place will make you rethink how you perceive grief and its effect on those who survive their significant others.
2. Mommie Dearest (1981)
Faye Dunaway gives a breathtaking performance in this biographical melodrama about the alleged physical and emotional abuse that Joan Crawford imparted on her adoptive daughter Christina. Featuring one of the most over-the-top performances by Faye Dunaway, Mommie Dearest is a film that was meant to be a serious drama, but was later advertised with taglines like: "Meet the biggest mother of them all!"
The film has received mixed reviews over time and has only become a cult classic because of its unintentional comedic tone. A commercial success, Mommie Dearest is a film not to be taken lightly as it tells the story of a child whose mother was so self-absorbed she couldn't even bother to be a mother except to self-service her desires.
1. Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Not so much a film about motherhood but the pregnancy that precedes it, Rosemary's Baby introduces Mia Farrow as Rosemary Woodhouse, a woman whose husband is an unsuccessful actor hoping to get his big break. When her husband makes a deal with the devil, Rosemary gets pregnant with what she thinks is her husband's child. A secret satanic cult hellbent on bringing the reign of Satan on Earth results in Rosemary giving birth to the son of the devil.
The film focuses on the ups and downs of Rosemary's pregnancy and ends with her desire to kill the child she's bore. Soon enough, she's won over by the cooing sounds of the baby's cries and the film ends with Mia Farrow's character smiling at the baby in its crib. To call this movie creepy would be an understatement.
Darren Aronofsky's Mother! (2017)
As Marlow Stern from The Daily Beast, puts it quite bluntly:
This is a film designed to fuck with you. And fuck with you it does.
Darren Aronofsky's Mother! is meant to push boundaries in similar ways as the seven films discussed above have impacted the cinematic landscape. Starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, Mother! is sure to disturb people in a way that will leave them speechless and unable to describe what the hell they just watched.
Check out Mother! in theaters and get ready for a film that Jessica Kiang from The Playlist says makes Black Swan look like an episode of Murder, She Wrote. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.